Whoever believes there's nothing new under the sun hasn't seen the plants introduced for the 2013 gardening season.
Think multicolored blooms, high-yield vegetables bred for containers and ornamental edibles packing still more nutrition as breeders try to anticipate consumer demand.
Grafted tomatoes appear to be the hottest new trend in home gardening, while cocktail gardens, featuring plants that make or embellish alcoholic drinks, top this year's niche category.
"We're looking for earlier (maturing) varieties, things that work in smaller spaces and plants that are different," said Kevin Roethle, head of new product development for Ball Seed Co., a division of Ball Horticultural Co. The West Chicago-based company lists 295 new introductions for 2013.
"We're trying to create contrasts," Roethle said. "Deeper colors on leaves and more vibrant blossoms."
Those attributes spur impulse buying, he said. "You're picking up milk and bread at a quick-stop (grocery) and then you wind up walking away with some flowers, too."
Another trend sees many old standbys made new again. These include bicolor dahlias (Marissa, Ball), petunias (Glamouflage Grape, Hort Couture) with deep colored blooms and variegated foliage, and shade-loving begonias (Sparks Will Fly, Ball) with brilliant flowers above rich, dark leaves.
Other noteworthy plant releases for the gardening season:
• Pint-size vegetables including the first sweet corn you can grow in a pot. No need to garden in large rectangles when you can plant edibles in 24-inch containers. On Deck Sweet Corn (Burpee) leads the parade of several high-yield vegetables being developed for patios or tight spaces.
• Herbs that are emerging as the hot new flowers. Many herbal varieties look great as stand-alones or when mixed with traditional blooms. Check out the new Cha Cha chive (The Cook's Garden) with its unique "leafettes" and eminently edible flower heads.
• Flowers with a surprising new look. Throw away the trellises if adding the Sun Parasol Garden Crimson mandevilla to your landscape. This is the headliner in a new series of compact bedding plant mandevillas from Suntory, the Japanese company that brought you the first blue rose in 2009. Excellent branching also makes it a natural for hanging baskets, Suntory breeder Tomoya Misato said. And then there is Longfield Gardens' new Double Oriental Lily, producing petals from the center of the flower rather than a stamen. A Longfield spokeswoman says that gives it the look of a double bloom, while doing away with pollen stains.
• Niche. Cocktail gardening can be an intoxicating hobby. Grow your own heady mixtures using the Drunken Botanist plant collection from Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore.
• Grafting. Over a billion tomatoes are grafted annually for improved yields and disease resistance, industry analysts say. Many heirlooms are uncommonly delicious, but produce too few fruit and are prone to disease and nematodes. These varieties become more vigorous and deliver larger crops for longer periods when grafted to proven rootstock. Try the Black Krim and Big Rainbow tomato heirlooms (Ball) for grafted combinations that deliver good looks with good taste.